The principles of racial equality and racial unity are central to the Bahá'í teachings. Bahá'ís believe that the elimination of racial prejudice is essential to peace, prosperity and the well-being of the human race. Bahá'u'lláh wrote:
“Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. He Who is the Daystar of Truth beareth Me witness! So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.”
In recent years, the New Zealand Bahá’í community has become more active in promoting positive race relations, particularly amongst the youth of New Zealand.
Race Relations Day
In 1997 the Bahá’í community approached the Race Relations Conciliator (then Dr Rajen Prasad) with the suggestion that a Race Unity Day be established in this country. Discussions took place over many months and on 10 December 1998 (Human Rights Day) the Race Relations Office formally announced that Race Unity Day would be celebrated in New Zealand on 21 March each year, beginning in 1999. This date was chosen as it is also the United Nations Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Race Unity Day was renamed Race Relations Day in October 2002.
From its inception, Bahá’í communities throughout the country were amongst the strongest supporters of Race Relations Day, which is now increasingly celebrated by other faith groups, district and city councils, ethnic councils, schools and other organisations.
As well as a wide variety of events and activities organised by Bahá’í communities at the local level and the publication of Race Relations in Aotearoa/New Zealand: A Bahá’í Perspective, the New Zealand Bahá’í Community has undertaken two major initiatives which are offered as contributions to the Diversity Action Programme - The Race Unity Speech Awards and the Race Unity Conference.
Race Unity Speech Awards
In 2001 the New Zealand Bahá’í community initiated and organised the Race Unity Speech Awards in support of Race Relations Day. Initially held in Auckland only, the competition has now spread to many other cities and towns around the country.
The competition is open to all senior high school students who are provided with a topic, a brief quotation, and several points to consider. Their speeches may be delivered in either Māori or English and must be 7 to 8 minutes in duration. The winning student and the school they represent each receive a $750 cash prize and a shield.
The New Zealand Police has sponsored the Speech Awards since 2008. The competition also benefits from strong support from the Human Rights Commission and the Office of Ethnic Affairs.
Feedback from students, parents and teachers has been highly appreciative:
- “...it was all great. Well done.”
- “Loved it.”
- “This was awesome, I really liked it.”
- “Best experience ever!!”
Race Unity Conference
In 2005 the New Zealand Bahá’í community initiated a Race Unity Conference as an adjunct to the Race Unity Speech Awards. The conference is primarily for young people aged 15 to 25 years, but parents, teachers and other interested people may also attend. The Conference takes place on the same day as the finals of the Speech Awards (a Saturday in late March or early April).
Two short, keynote speeches start the day — one given by the student who won the previous year’s Race Unity Speech Awards; the other by a Bahá’í youth. The speeches are followed by workshops on a variety of topics designed to increase knowledge and understanding of race relations in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The workshops are facilitated by the Police, Human Rights Commission, Office of Ethnic Affairs and the New Zealand Bahá’í Community.
As with the Speech Awards, the Conference has proved extremely popular with students, parents and teachers:
- “It was a great conference! Thank-you very much.”
- “...it would be good to extend the days [to] a week for this sort of important event.”
- “I’m loving this race unity conference! Looking forward to next year!”
- “Heaps of fun. I learned a lot.”
- “Keep doing what you’re doing, you have no idea how incredible this experience that you have provided for us is!”
If you wish to find out more about any of the above activities, please email the National Coordinator of the Race Unity Speech Awards and Conference directly, or follow our Race Unity pages on Facebook and YouTube.
Teachings on race unity
For more about the Bahá’í teachings on this subject, you may wish to read The Starting Point.